Or, a Brief Overview of the Foundation, Rise, Progress, Opposition, Reputation, and Destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
History is utterly fascinating. Messy, confusing, ridiculous, and often tragic, but fascinating. I had wondered what would happen if I took a summarized yet extensive overview of the entire history of the Church, warts and all, good, bad, and ugly. I had hoped the emerging picture would be that of God's hand guiding its destiny through the ages. I will allow the reader to judge for himself whether that is in fact the case, but I hope that whether (s)he is a believing Latter-day Saint or not, (s)he will find it even a little bit as fascinating as I do. My intention is to be honest first and faith-promoting second, and I believe these are compatible goals.
To quote from a great talk by historian Davis Bitton: “I do not have a testimony of the history of the church. In making this declaration, I have no need to deny that our church history is peopled with many inspiring individuals. What they preached and taught can be studied. In the course of enhancing my historical understanding I often find reinforcement for my faith. But I uncouple the two – testimony and history. I leave ample room for human perversity. I am not wed to any single, simple version of the past. I leave room for new information and new interpretations. My testimony is not dependent on scholars. My testimony of the eternal gospel does not hang in the balance.”
Brother Bitton also quoted Elder J. Golden Kimball, the famous swearing, drinking Seventy who allegedly put it this way: “Hell, we can come up with embezzlers, grave robbers, cross-dressers, plagiarists, forgers, and if you need someone who can recite the Protocols of Zion while hanging from his knees on a flying trapeze, we can probably oblige you.” To that list he could have added racists, pedophiles, murderers, etcetera, but I think he gets the point across. One of the main thoughts that comes to mind as I study church history is how badly God's servants can screw things up without ruining His plans. Another is that if you think this is all the product of a con man, you're a moron.
There are at least eight types of things included here (not individually labeled as such, because that would take way too much time):
Foundational Events. From at least 13.75 billion B.C. (give or take a few months) to A.D. 1829, events great and small have paved the way for the permanent Kingdom of God on Earth.
Important Events. Stuff that taken together has molded the Church into what it is today. Anything from a divine manifestation to the organization of a committee.
Preparatory Events. Stuff from the lives of church leaders or other influential figures, sometimes not even members, that prepared them for their roles in the Church's history.
Cool Events. Stuff from the Church's day-to-day operation or lives of individual members that probably isn't necessary to the big picture, but is really awesome to know about.
Pop Culture. How politicians, famous people, news outlets, the entertainment industry, etc. have responded to and represented the Church over the years.
Opposition. The attempts of apostates, rival clergymen, secularists, etc. to undermine or destroy the Church. They don't deserve the publicity, but I enjoy seeing them fail over and over.
Discoveries. Archaeological or other findings that vindicate the Book of Mormon or some other aspect of the Church. Contrary to idiots who say there's “not a shred” of evidence, there is.
History of Break-off Sects. I include these out of fairness to help readers discern for themselves whether any of them has a more legitimate claim to the mantle of the Restoration.
The events listed are, of course, all nestled in the context of the timeline itself, and by extension the history of the Church. But beyond that, I try whenever feasible to add a bit of context to the event description, by hinting at future events or larger ramifications. This clarifies things and helps readers keep track of important stuff that could easily be forgotten if you're reading the whole thing through chronologically. I hope it also helps avoid the failing of Wikipedia's Joseph Smith article, of which Richard Bushman said “It just picks its way along from one little fact to another little fact... so it becomes a picky piece that isn't inaccurate, but it sort of lacks depth. It ends up being shallow, I think.”
There is, of course, the question of sources. If I were a real historian, I would put qualifiers like “allegedly” in front of every miracle or divine manifestation, but the word of the participants and the confirmation of the Holy Ghost is enough for me to accept them as truth. In other cases, I go with whatever the academic consensus happens to be, and so inevitably some of the events described here are wrong. Historical sources are a tricky thing and raise many questions, such as whether to favor a first-hand account from several years afterward or a third-hand account from the time of the event. I point out some of these issues when they're particularly pertinent, as well as items that are clearly false.
This project was undertaken just for fun (I guess you could say I really enjoy dating), which is why there are no citations or footnotes, and some stuff is even copy-pasted from elsewhere. Sorry. If you're curious about something, Google it, but be aware that you might be directed to an anti-Mormon site. (Anti-Mormons in this day and age rarely “lie” per se, so much of their information is valid, though they still manage to be almost as deceitful as a politician during campaign season.) I do not speak in any official capacity for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (duh), and any doctrinal errors contained herein are solely my responsibility.
P.S. I don't do that politically correct “BCE/CE” crap with the dates. The world's calendar is based on Jesus. Get over it.
P.S. I'm biased. So sue me.
To find a specific year or keyword, hit Ctrl + F, type it in, and hit Enter.
Two deities, Heavenly Father and Mother, have billions of human spirit children by unknown means. The children are raised in their holy courts in heaven for an unknown length of time, developing unique friendships, talents and personalities. Spirit animals and plants are created as well but they are not God's children.
God the Father, also known as Elohim, presents a plan to His billions of spirit children wherein they will take on physical bodies and be tested to gain experience and become like Him. However, because the children will be subject to sin and no unclean thing can dwell in God's presence, a Savior is needed to pay the penalty for their sins. The Father asks for a volunteer. His eldest spirit child, Jehovah or Jesus Christ, volunteers first and offers the glory to God. Lucifer then volunteers to force everyone to live perfect lives so that not a single soul will be lost, and he wants the glory for himself. The Father chooses Jehovah.
Lucifer rebels against God and persuades an entire third of the spirit children to follow him, starting a War in Heaven against the loyal children led by Michael. The duration of this war or what it entails are unknown. At its conclusion, he and his followers are cast out of heaven, doomed to never receive physical bodies. Lucifer becomes Satan, the father of all lies, and he and his followers will have power to tempt those with bodies to sin, but not to possess them without their consent.
ca. 13.75 Billion B.C.
The physical universe as we know it is created by God from pre-existing matter. This is apparently done with a sort of “Big Bang” in which all the matter begins in an extremely dense and hot state and then rapidly expands outward and cools. Note: this may actually happen before the council in heaven.
ca. 4.6 Billion B.C.
The planet Earth and the rest of its solar system is created from pre-existing matter by Jehovah, under the direction of God the Father and with assistance from Michael. Earth is only one among at least trillions of planets that God has created and continues to create, and she is a living thing with a spirit and some level of intelligence. She is female because she is able to support and nurture life. (Note: some Mormons and other Christians believe this actually happens about 4000 B.C., but no evidence supports this theory.)
ca. 3.6 Billion B.C.
The first life forms, simple prokaryotic cells without nuclei, appear on Earth.
ca. 3.4 Billion B.C.
Stromatolites appear on Earth, being the first organisms to demonstrate photosynthesis and make nourishment from the sun's light energy.
ca. 2 Billion B.C.
The first complex eukaryotic cells with nuclei appear on Earth.
ca. 1 Billion B.C.
The first multicellular organisms appear on Earth.
ca. 600 Million B.C.
The first simple animals appear on Earth.
ca. 570 Million B.C.
The first arthropods appear on Earth.
ca. 550 Million B.C.
The first complex animals appear on Earth.
ca. 530 Million B.C.
There is a “Cambrian explosion” in which most major animal phyla appear on Earth relatively rapidly and organisms diversify into animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes. The reasons for this anomaly are unclear. Afterward, the speed at which more complex organisms appear increases by an entire order of magnitude.
ca. 500 Million B.C.
The first fish and proto-amphibians appear on Earth. These fish do not have bones or jaws.
ca. 475 Million B.C.
The first land plants appear on Earth.
ca. 400 Million B.C.
The first insects and seeded plants appear on Earth.
ca. 360 Million B.C.
The first true amphibians appear on Earth. Unlike fish, they are able to breathe on land, but must still lay their eggs in the water to keep them from drying out.
ca. 300 Million B.C.
The first reptiles appear on Earth. They have an advantage over amphibians in that their eggs are hard-shelled and do not have to be laid in the water.
ca. 260 Million B.C.
The first true dinosaurs appear on Earth. They are similar to reptiles but have many structural differences and may in fact be exothermic or “warm-blooded”; able to regulate their internal temperature regardless of the surrounding climate.
ca. 200 Million B.C.
The first mammals, the class of animals to which modern humans belong, appear on Earth. They have an advantage over fish, reptiles and amphibians in that they are warm-blooded.
ca. 150 Million B.C.
The first birds appear on Earth. They are closely related to reptiles, but like mammals, they are warm-blooded.
ca. 130 Million B.C.
The first flowering plants appear on Earth. Flowers provide an advantage in reproducing, particularly by attracting insects or animals to participate in the fertilization process.
ca. 65 Million B.C.
The dinosaurs die out from unknown causes. It is later theorized by some Latter-day Saints that their fossils were in fact left over from another planet that God reorganized into the Earth, but this is highly improbable because they are always arranged so that the chronological placement and geographic range of each species can be determined.
ca. 2.5 Million B.C.
The genus Homo, of which modern humans are a part, appears on Earth.
ca. 200,000 B.C.
The first anatomically modern human beings, Homo sapiens, appear on Earth in what will become the continent of Africa. Their relationship, if any, with God's spirit children is unknown.
ca. 50,000 B.C.
The anatomically modern humans begin to exhibit full behavioral modernity as well.
ca. 10,000 B.C.
Humans begin to practice sedentary agriculture, domesticating plants and animals which allow for the growth of civilization.
Michael receives a body and becomes Adam, and is given a wife named Eve. The means of their creation are unknown but appear from fossil, genetic, and anatomical evidence to involve biological evolution alongside other humans, although a more simplistic and probably metaphorical account of being sculpted from dust is often taken literally. Their spirits pass through a veil between the Earth and heaven that obscures their memories of the pre-mortal existence.
Adam and Eve live with many animals in the Garden of Eden, in what will become Jackson County, Missouri, in a carefree state of childlike innocence and naivete. They are told by God that they may eat any fruit they want except for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They are also commanded to reproduce, but in their current state they do not know how.
ca. 4000 B.C.
Lucifer, taking Christ's symbol of the serpent and attempting to thwart God's entire plan, persuades Eve to partake of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She does so and then shares it with Adam. They lose their innocence, become subject to death and sin, and are forced to leave the Garden of Eden to work for their survival. They dwell in an area called Adam-ondi-Ahman in what will become western Missouri.
ca. 3925 B.C.
Two of Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel, offer sacrifices to the Lord. Cain's sacrifice of produce instead of animals is rejected, and he murders his brother in a jealous rage. The Lord curses him to become a fugitive and vagabond throughout the Earth and sets an unknown mark on him to keep anyone else from killing him. Thousands of years later, this mark is arbitrarily assumed to be black skin, and it is decided that people of African descent are still under a “curse of Cain”.
ca. 3073 B.C.
Adam holds a farewell council with his family in Adam-ondi-Ahman, where the Lord appears to them.
ca. 2940 B.C.
Enoch and his city of Zion are so righteous that they are translated, or taken directly into heaven.
ca. 2350 B.C.
The world enters a state of wickedness and apostasy, so the Lord calls Noah to preach repentance to them. No one listens.
The Lord decides to wipe out all the wicked people and start fresh, because children raised in such a world have no chance to become righteous. He commands Noah to build an ark to preserve himself, his family, and a male and female of every animal species.
The Lord floods the earth, drowning all the wicked people and most animal life. Whether the entire earth is actually flooded, giving it a literal baptism and cleansing, or whether “the earth” refers simply to a large geographical area, which is much more compatible with geological evidence, is unknown. The flood lasts for forty days and forty nights, after which a dove brings an olive branch to the ark to demonstrate that dry land is now available. The ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat, probably in modern-day Turkey.
The Lord establishes the rainbow as a symbol of his promise never to flood the whole earth again. Whether this is the first rainbow ever or simply a new usage of a pre-existing natural phenomenon is unknown.
Noah's son Ham sees him drunk and naked, and Ham's son Canaan is cursed to be a servant of servants unto his brethren. The reason for this is unclear. This is later conflated with the “curse of Cain” theory to justify keeping Africans in slavery.
ca. 2349 B.C.
ca. 2240 B.C.
Prideful people attempt to build a tower, known as the Tower of Babel, to reach heaven. In response, the Lord confounds their languages so they cannot communicate with each other.
ca. 1996 B.C.
Abraham is born under the name Abram.
ca. 1960 B.C.
Abraham travels to Canaan and covenants with the Lord.
ca. 1945 B.C.
Melchizedek's city of Salem is translated.
ca. 1915 B.C.
Lot hosts three angels at his home in the city of Sodom. The men of the city intend to enter his house and rape them, as well as his daughters, but the angels smite the men with blindness.
The angels send Lot out of Sodom, telling him not to look back. The Lord then destroys it and the nearby city of Gomorrah for their wickedness, particularly pride and homosexuality. Lot's wife looks back on the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt.
ca. 1860 B.C.
Isaac's son Jacob exchanges a mess of pottage for the birthright of his older twin brother, Esau.
ca. 1750 B.C.
Jacob has twelve sons, renews the Abrahamic covenant with the Lord, and becomes known as Israel.
ca. 1695 B.C.
Jacob's son Joseph obtains the birthright and is gifted either with a coat of many colors, according to the Septuagint, or simply a long coat with sleeves, as the Hebrew term may indicate.
Joseph's envious older brothers attack him, steal his coat, and throw him in a pit. They intend to kill him, but Judah talks them out of it because he is their brother. They sell him to as a slave to Ishmeelite traders heading towards Egypt and tell their father Jacob that he was killed by a wild beast.
Joseph obtains favor from the Pharaoh by interpreting his dream and prophesying that Egypt will have seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. He is made governor of Egypt and put in charge of stockpiling food to prepare for the years of famine.
ca. 1660 B.C.
Pharaoh invites Joseph's family to dwell in Egypt's land of Goshen. As the generations pass, the Egyptians become suspicious of the Israelites' success in their country and begin to oppress and enslave them.
ca. 1475 B.C.
The Lord appears to Pharaoh's adopted son Moses in a burning bush and calls him to deliver Israel out of Egypt.
ca. 1420 B.C.
At age eighty, Moses leads the Israelites on their exodus out of bondage in Egypt.
ca. 1410 B.C.
Moses climbs Mount Sinai (also known as Mount Horeb) where God gives him stone tablets on which are written the Ten Commandments. While he is on the mountain, the Israelites grow impatient in his absence and make his brother Aaron create for them a golden calf, which they worship. Upon seeing this Moses is so frustrated that he smashes the tablets on the ground.
The Israelites construct the tabernacle.
ca. 1395 B.C.
The Israelites live in the wilderness for forty years.
ca. 600 B.C.
The prophet Lehi and his family, including faithful son Nephi and cynical sons Laman and Lemuel, are commanded to leave Jerusalem before it is destroyed. They take with them the family of their friend Ishmael and brass plates containing many Old Testament writings. They begin crossing the desert, often guided by a compass from heaven known as the Liahona that works according to their righteousness. They probably follow the Frankincense Trail.
Lehi has a dream where he and his family follow an iron rod through mists of darkness to a tree with delicious white fruit. Laman and Lemuel refuse to eat the fruit, and several others let go of the iron rod and get lost due to the mocking of spectators in a great and spacious building. The iron rod represents the word of God, the fruit represents eternal life, and the building represents the pride of the world.
ca. 592 B.C.
Lehi and his family finish their trek across the Arabian Peninsula and arrive at Bountiful, a small fertile land surrounded by desert, probably the present day Wadi Sayq.
ca. 591 B.C.
Nephi is commanded by the Lord to build a boat and shown how to do it. Laman and Lemuel mock him until he shocks them with the power of the Lord, after which they cooperate.
Lehi's sons Jacob and Joseph are born.
The boat is built and a journey across the ocean commences, probably going east from the Arabian peninsula and making provision stops along the way.
ca. 590 B.C.
The passengers on the boat begin behaving wickedly. When Nephi chastens them, Laman and Lemuel tie him up, and a storm engulfs the boat. When they untie him and repent of their sins, the storm ceases.
ca. 589 B.C.
Lehi and his companions arrive in the Promised Land somewhere on the American continents, most likely in what later becomes Mesoamerica. The Promised Land has been kept from the knowledge of other nations to prevent it from being overrun, but already has its own peoples and cultures.
Siddhartha Gautama is born to a Hindu chieftain in Nepal.
Confucius is born in China.
ca. 200 B.C.
Zeniff leads a group of followers from Zarahemla to possess the land of Lehi-Nephi. The king of the Lamanites, king Laman, allows them to have it and gives them the land of Shilom as well.
ca. 188 B.C.
King Laman and the Lamanites begin to grow uneasy about the increasing numbers and strength of the Nephites in Lehi-Nephi and Shilom.
ca. 187 B.C.
The Lamanites begin to war against the Nephites in Lehi-Nephi and Shilom, but the Nephites call upon the power of the Lord and drive them out.
ca. 4 B.C.
A virgin named Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and told that, while still a virgin, she will give birth to the Son of God.
While pregnant, the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be taxed by Caesar Augustus. They are forced to find lodging in a manger because there is no room in any of the inns, and that is where Jesus Christ, the Son of God formerly known as Jehovah, is born. Many Latter-day Saints believe this happens on April 6, but this is not doctrinal and is probably based on a misreading of
Shepherds on a hillside are visited by choirs of angels and guided by a new star in the sky to come visit and worship the infant Christ.
Wise men are sent by King Herod to visit Christ and report back his location, unaware of his intention to kill the young infant and prevent the Messiah's perceived threat to his kingship. They find the boy in Nazareth and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
An angel appears to the wise men and tells them not to report to King Herod, so they take another route home.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take his family and flee into Egypt.